Thomas Mann has done his share of high school movies — including the found-footage party flick “Project X” and this year’s action comedy “Barely Lethal” — but he doesn’t think he’ll do better playing a teenager than with his Sundance hit “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” and he’d like to grow up now, if that’s OK with Hollywood.
You brought both this film and “The Stanford Prison Experiment” to Sundance this year. That had to be a cool experience.
Even if I have another film there, it won’t come close to matching the whirlwind experience that this year was. I was just excited to go to Sundance. I felt like those two movies were really a turning point for me. It’s like a second phase of my career now and I’m sort of growing up. And while Greg is an immature character, it’s the most mature role of my career by far. And it’s the most of myself I’ve ever had to leave on screen. So to be recognized in that way for those movies that are both very close to me was awesome.
As an actor, do you get to decide how long you play high school age? Or is that not up to you?
Obviously now I’m trying to get away from it, and I sort of have. In “The Stanford Prison Experiment” I’m playing early 20s, and the next film I’m doing this summer is early 20s. I feel like “Me and Earl” is my quintessential high school movie. I can’t go back. I really grew up a lot, both as an actor and just going through the emotional journey that the character goes through and the self-discovery of that. It would be so hard for me to go back and play these old beats.
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The industry may have its own ideas about what age you can play that don’t align with your own.
Yeah, and that’s fine. I look young and I can still play 18. I’m just grateful that people want to cast me in anything at all. There’s a lot of people that can’t fine work, so I’m so grateful that I’m able to make a living doing this. And if I have to wait a little bit longer to play early 20s, then that’s not a big deal.
What was the process of actually shooting the films within the film that your character makes?
I used to do that when I was in middle school, make parodies of other movies or make YouTube videos or whatever. And it honestly felt like that, the way we had it set up. We just kind of went around in a van, knocked out five of them in a row one afternoon on probably the first day that we shot — switching costumes in the car, going around to all these different locations in Pittsburgh, just kind of stealing these shots. It was very guerilla-style and very fun. They felt perfectly unprofessional.
That’s an interesting way to start the entire shoot.
Yeah, and it was a good way for me and RJ to get comfortable getting to know each other. And the most ridiculous s— that I do in the movie is in those little short films that we make, so that kind of set the tone. Like, I’m not afraid to do anything because I put on earrings and a wig and screamed as a plunger was coming at my face or was just cursing at the top of my lungs in the middle of a park where there’s little kids running around. After that I was like, OK I can do anything.
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter: @nedrick